Money Matters: “Cast your Bread on the Waters”

By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Sermon, Saturday, 4th May, 2013)

Direct from Heaven’s Business Consultancy

I would like to give a special talk on sound Biblical business practices on this occasion of our free-will offering service for the first quarter of the year as a way of giving back to you so that you too can give back bountifully to the Lord. 

Many centuries ago, the wise old preacher-king penned these golden words of wisdom: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days".

Many preachers misapply this scripture to the giving of offering regularly and copiously! The setting and the context of the text, however, are neither church nor offering, although I will readily concede that giving to God is the highest form of investment there is with incalculable, eternally rewarding returns! Didn’t the Master Himself say, ‘lay up your treasures in heaven where you have indestructible insurance cover for them? And that where your investment is, there your heart will be?’  (Matt. 6:19-21). 

Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes 11 is not about giving to God; the subject is more earthbound–it offers a sound business advice:

1. Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.

2. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

3. If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.

4. He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

5. As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

6. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good (Eccl. 11:1-6 ESV).

 What is the message?

Spread your investments widely and wisely and trust God for a good return. It’s a call to take business risks in faith by casting your bread on the sea of uncertainty, and you will recoup the investment "after many days".  For some scholars, "the imagery deals with commercial business through maritime trade. M. Jastrow took this verse as advice to take risks in business by trusting one’s goods or ships that will after many days return with a profit (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 181). Sea trade was risky in the ancient Near East, but it brought big returns to its investors (e.g., 1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22; Ps 107:23)" (NET Bible Footnote). Whatever its primary application was, the sense of the text is clear:  take risks to invest in commercial activities, and, with faith in the miracle-working God, you will get a good return over time. So what is the right way to do it?

The Right Way to Invest

Take caution. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Invest in several ventures ("give a portion to seven or even to eight") because crises are by nature unpredictable. Who knows what economic crisis will strike next?  Moreover, good times are not forever and misfortune can occur in any direction.  Clouds heavy with rain don’t retain the rain forever; a time comes when "they empty themselves on the earth".  So then, a time of abundance will surely give way to scarcity, and then people begin to feel the pinch–the dwindling rain hits the earth!   In such times of recession, loss or misfortune can occur in different sectors of the economy, but where it occurs, there the impact is sure to be felt, for "in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie".      

So don’t be deluded into thinking that your line of business will always be viable and profitable.  Economic trends are variable, and the profitable business today could be a loss-making venture tomorrow. The bubble can always burst! And you will fall on hard times because your sole business has become unprofitable.  We only need to cast our minds back a few years ago when ‘Space to Space’ and commercial Communication Centres were a booming business. That line of business was profitable then because it was providing a vital service in demand at the time–it afforded people without mobile phones the opportunity to talk to the few who had them at a fee. But any savvy business person would have foreseen that it was not a business activity with long-term prospects. It could not be counted on to remain viable beyond a few years. With the rapid penetration of the local Ghanaian market by the telecommunication companies and the various mobile phone brands to saturation point as it’s now, ‘space to space’ was set to fall by the wayside.  And it has.  What if that was your sole source of livelihood, wouldn’t you find yourself in dire straits?

Another painful lesson of the perils of sole investment was the fraudulent Pyram scheme which supposedly yielded high returns of over 100% on one’s investment. As we all know too well, Pyram turned out to be a scam, and people’s entire life savings were wiped out in one fell swoop!   

Generally, as a rule, any financial or investment scheme which promises you above-normal returns should be looked at with suspicion. First, realize that no legitimate business can give you that kind of bumper return touted. Secondly, know that the smooth-talking schemers are out for a specific prey – the greedy soul who seeks money the easy way. The outcome is always dashed hopes and trouble just as scripture warns us: "A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent" (Prov. 28:20).

So invest diligently and widely. And it doesn’t have to be simply multiple ventures.  You can expand your present line of business by adding features that will help you attract new customers, retain the old and stay competitive.  For example, a seller of pastries you can invest in a ‘joint’ with comfortable seats for customers who wish to eat and relax there and also sell soft drinks alongside. With this, the immediate benefits are two: old customers feel more at home while new ones interested in the soft drinks are gained.  In addition, this puts you ahead of your competitor who has no fixed point of sale but continues to hawk from place to place.     

But someone may ask, ‘what if circumstances are not favourable?’  Well, where is your faith?  

Don’t Make Plausible Excuses!

If you look for them, you can always find an excuse, or invent one, not to do something. What applies in farming applies in business as well. The look of the weather at any given time may seem a valid reason to put off planting or harvest. But then, don’t put too much trust in the empirical observations of your senses or your instincts. Or even the views of so-called experts and friends. In the face of adverse circumstances, there exist chances of success; it does not ALWAYS mean all doom and gloom. Miracles do occur! The God in whom you have placed your faith can always work a miracle for you.  So He does with the conception and development of babies in the womb, a mystery process which begins when the spirit from the Almighty merges with the tiny foetus in the womb!   His ways are past finding out.  He can "open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: … [and] make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water" (Isa. 41:18).

So make full use of every available opportunity at your disposal and work diligently; leave no stone unturned. Who knows what line of business would succeed? God is a miracle-working as well as a practical God. Therefore, spiritual as well as practical business principles should be followed. In a time of famine, possibly from crop failure, He told Isaac to sow in faith, and when he sowed with diligence, scripture says he " received in the same year [of famine, v. 1] an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great: For he had possession of flocks, and possessions of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him" (Gen. 26:12-14).

His faith demonstrated through diligence paid off. But notice this also! The man didn’t only plant crops; he practised diversified agriculture. He reared cattle in addition to the crop farming.  Isaac was a man of faith who took a risk to do large-scale farming involving labourers and expenses on the say-so of God in the year of famine and he had a bumper harvest—“a hundredfold” even in the year of famine!  The time was inauspicious, yes, but he put MORE faith in God than the unfavourable forecast of the weather evident to the eye!  

Certainly, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), for with God all things are possible! It is He who "makes everything" and indeed is "able to make all grace abound toward you" (2 Cor. 9:8). 

He’s genuinely interested in your financial success, for His wish for you "above all things [is] that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 1:2; also Ps 35:27).  

After all, our material prosperity does have a bearing on our heavenly investments in the long term. For is it not the case that when business booms, offering grows and our credit balance in heaven picks up? (See Phil. 4:17; 2 John 1:8).

When we act doubly in faith taking risks in business and in our financial giving to God, we reap the double reward of both physical and spiritual blessings. We become a blessing in all things:

6. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

7. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

8. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

9. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever."

10. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

11. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:6-11 ESV).

May this be the story of your life in Jesus’ Name! Amen!